Posted in education on November 7, 2014 9:50 am EST

Barna Group Research Shines Light on Millennials’ Design & Worship Preferences

Church Designer shares the findings of a new Barna Group report conducted in conjunction with Cornerstone Knowledge Network. A must-read and a tipping point for spirited discussion.

A look into the mind of Millennials' church design and worship preferences....











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TAGS: architecture, design, millennials, research,


By Church Designer Staff

Many churches today are explicitly constructed not to look and feel too much like a religious place. A stark contrast to the ancient cathedrals and churches of old—the very design of which was intended to help people experience the divine.

How does this design shift impact worshippers? What about outsiders? What do church buildings say about the faith of those inside? And, when it comes to the next generation of believers—who, leaders worry, will darken the church doors less and less often—does the building itself have anything to do with their resistance or attraction to the church?

“Most Millennials don’t look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.”

—Clint Jenkin, Vice President of Research, Barna Group, Ventura, CA

To understand the principles of design that best resonate with Millennials, Barna Group partnered with Cornerstone Knowledge Network to conduct a multi-phase research program. First, Barna recruited Millennials from a variety of religious backgrounds to tour urban cathedrals, suburban megachurches, city parks and coffee shops. Along the way Barna’s researchers asked what they did and didn’t like about each space, what they would use different spaces for and how they might change each place if given the opportunity.

After observing these Millennials, Barna better understood the scope of issues confronting churches as they work to optimize their buildings for the next generation. The Barna team then developed an online survey for a nationally representative sample of 18- to 29-year-olds. This survey combined word-driven questions with “visual” polling—asking participants to respond to sets of images—for a unique, in-depth look at what types of spaces Millennials resonate with at home, at church and at work. Additionally, the survey sought to uncover Millennials’ perceptions of Christianity beyond the four walls of the church.

Finding a Place

In this summary, readers can see some of the visual polling from the survey as well as some of the results of the word-comparison poll. These questions focus on the design and aesthetic of church buildings and worship environments. To explore the full scope of the survey—including demographic segmentation, questions on work, home and community, field-test results and insights into how Millennials feel when they visit a church—read the “Making Space for Millennials” monograph.

The first series showed four images of different kinds of worship spaces and asked which respondents found most appealing. Just under half of participants (44%) selected Sanctuary 2, with the remaining respondents split almost evenly among the other three images. Those who profess a faith other than Christianity (32%) were more likely than average (20%) to prefer Sanctuary 3; this image is devoid of Christian symbols.

Sanctuary 2 was the “Goldilocks” space for many respondents—not too big, not too small. Just right. It’s big enough to retain some anonymity as a visitor—the marginally churched (63%) and those who are not practicing Christians (50%) preferred it more strongly than the average—but small enough to feel part of a community. Parents with children under 18 (50%) also preferred Sanctuary 2 more than average.

Graphic courtesy of Barna Group,

This pattern squares with feedback from the field groups: For many, size is a necessary evil rather than a selling point. Participants acknowledged that a successful church would grow and therefore need to increase the size of its services and facilities. But they also expressed a bit of tacit distrust for very large churches. One young man put it starkly: “It seems like a really big business.”

Millennials express that their perceived advantage of a large church is the option to blend in, especially for those who are less comfortable visiting for the first time.  continued >>